Jim Graves is a Catholic writer and editor living in Newport Beach, California. He previously served as Managing Editor for the Diocese of Orange Bulletin, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Orange, California. His work has appeared in the National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor, Cal Catholic Daily and Catholic World Report.
The Mary Mother of God Mission Society (www.vladmission.org) has been working to revive the Catholic faith in Russia since 1992. Its founders are Fathers Myron Effing and Daniel Maurer, two Americans from the Midwest felt called to serve the Russian people.
They came to Vladivostok at the invitation of the diocesan bishop, located in Novosibirsk, Siberia, 2,300 miles away “as the crow flies,” but over 3,000 miles to drive or fly because of the need to travel around China. They founded the Canons Regular of Jesus the Lord and the Mother of God Mission Society to support their work. They named the community for the 20th century Polish gothic church to which they were assigned, one of the few houses of worship not destroyed during the Soviet era.
Valdivostok is a city in Far Eastern Russia with a population of 600,000. It is a port city, not far from the China and North Korea borders. It has a cool to mild northern climate, and is often foggy. Its industries include shipping and fishing, and it is home to a large Russian naval base. Communist rule virtually wiped out the Catholic faith in the area; an estimated 7,000 Catholics in the region were martyred during that time.
Fr. Effing recently offered an update on the mission.
What are some of the major projects with which the mission is involved in Vladivostok?
Our major projects include:
1. We are the support for 5 parishes, including St. Joseph in Artyom, Most Holy Mother of God in Vladivostok, Holy Trinity in Romanovka, Visitation in Lesozavodsk and Our Lady of the Pacific in Hakhodka, including currently building a new church for this last parish.
2. We support six crisis pregnancy centers in various cities of our state of Primorye.
3. We operate the novitiate for the Canons Regular of Jesus the Lord (CJD), a new religious family. Currently the CJD have 50 members worldwide, including a new community in Las Vegas where two of our members will be ordained priests on May 31.
4. We, together with the CJD sisters from Kansas City, provide chaplaincy services for the Far Eastern Federal University with its many foreign students.
5. We operate a concert program with our pipe organs, using world class musicians as a way of serving and getting known by the general community.
Who are the clergy working with your Society in Vladivostok.
Fr. Maurer and I have been joined by Fr. Sebastian D’Silva from India who is building a church in Nakhodka and pastoring it and the parish in Romanovka. Also, we have with us Brother Nikita Kushnaryev, CJD, who is awaiting ordination. He has been leading the chaplaincy program at the university.
We have three CJD sisters from Kansas City who are involved in our catechetical and youth programs and liturgical music programs. They also join parishioners in caring for orphans in several orphanages and at a hospice for the elderly.
We have three Sisters of Charity of St. Anne who operate an afterschool program in Romanovka, teach the Spanish language at the university and work in the city social services administration.
What are some of the most crucial needs Catholics in Vladivostok have?
Frankly, our need is financial. Our many programs need financial support, especially our CJD novice program and our seminarians. We have many vocations from many countries, especially Asia, but educating seminarians is an expensive and long process. As the number of priests serving in Russia from Europe is decreasing, we see an increasing need for our vocations from the more recently evangelized countries of Asia to fill the gap, including vocations from Asian Russia. Currently our priestly vocations are from Russia, Indonesia, India, the Philippines, and Pakistan.
What relationship does Most Holy Mother of God Catholic Parish in Vladivostok have with the local government?
Our parishes are registered charitable organizations, and we pass all government inspections. The local government is aware that ours is an international, multicultural city. We do not receive any government financial support.
Tell me the history of your parish, and what impact it has had on Vladivostok since it was founded.
The parish was founded in the 1860s, when the Russian Navy moved to Vladivostok from Nicolaevsk-na-Amure. The founding pastor was the Catholic navy chaplain.
The parish had 15,000 members at one time, as it was the only parish in our state. The beautiful Gothic brick church was built and dedicated in 1922 when it became the cathedral of the Diocese of Vladivostok, just as the Communists took over the city. It was confiscated and used as the State archives.
The re-founded parish received it back in 1993 and we have restored it close to the original plans. It is now a Federal architectural monument, visible on the hill with its twin steeples from far away.
The parish was the source of founding of seven other parishes in our State, and the founding of two charitable organizations, including the system of six crisis pregnancy centers which have been instrumental in saving 176 children in 2016 alone. The Centers also teach NFP, and give lectures in schools about family values and chastity. The parish concert program has made us more widely known, and our musicians have given concerts in New York, San Francisco, and other places in the U.S., and the world.
What needs does the Society have?
We need vocations, and we need financial support for our seminarians. Donors can “adopt” a seminarian, so they can follow their steps to the priesthood. Our dedicated staff at the mission office in Modesto, California, also needs more volunteer workers. We are also grateful to our sister parishes in America who regularly support us, and sometimes even visit us.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Last year, our Indonesian novices translated Dr. Brant Pitre’s book “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist.” It is being published now in Indonesia, so we are able to help and serve in other places because of our vocations. Besides Vladivostok and our local cities, I mentioned Kansas City and Las Vegas already. We also have priests, brothers, and sisters working in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Georgia. So, even though our finances are mostly in trouble, our help to the Church is increasing due to vocations.